Q&A: Winemaker Fabian Reis on his boutique wine venture, Ferox

Q&A: Winemaker Fabian Reis on his boutique wine venture, Ferox

Winemaker and viticulturist Fabian Reis, and his wife Stephanie, a trained sommelier, launched their boutique winery in 2016. Inspired by the Latin word for “fierce,” Ferox is a love letter to Fabien’s long family history of winemaking—a sixth-generation maker himself. Based in Niagara-On-The-Lake, and amongst plenty of local competition, Ferox stands out for its bold and powerful wines with superior quality that begins in the vineyards and follows through to the bottle.

We caught up with Fabian, this month’s TL winemaker-in-residence, to discuss the story of Ferox, the role of sustainability in winemaking and which bottles he’ll be supplying members of the Toronto Life Wine Club this month.

Where does your passion for winemaking come from?
I was born in Stuttgart, Germany to a lineage of winemakers that dates back to 1893. So, it’s definitely something that I grew up around. After moving to Canada, I returned to Germany where I studied the craft but ultimately decided to run some projects in Niagara which eventually turned into Ferox. With Stephanie, who is a certified sommelier, I’ve seen these small projects turn into a business where we have the power to get our own grapes and manufacture and sell our own goods. I think the passion has always been there, it’s just evolved over time.

How has Ferox grown over the years?
The growth happened very quickly, actually. Only two years after we officially launched Ferox, we were able to purchase Vignoble Rancourt Winery, an existing vineyard in Niagara-On-The-Lake, sitting on about 25 acres of land. We’ve been able to rebrand the previous farmer’s market on the lot into a food store powered by local farmers and chefs, and upsized our staff with a diverse roster of wine experts.

Which wines have you selected to share with Toronto Life Wine Club members this month?
We’ve chosen three wines we’re loving right now: our 2018 Ferox White, 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon, and our Red Vintages Bordeaux-style blend.

How do you recommend sippers pair these wines?
Our Ferox White is a blend that profiles a lot of unique fruit components, this bottle pairs well with seafood and spicy foods but is great as a standalone glass as well. Both our Cab-Sauv and the Red Vintages blend are lower in alcohol and are more elegant in the way they are made. I’d pair these with gamier meats like lamb or veal.

What role does sustainability play in your winemaking?
There are a lot of choices we make that are influenced by our desire to remain as sustainable a winery as possible—from the material we use to the size of our batches. But sustainability plays the biggest role in the winemaking process itself. We choose not to irrigate our farm, which in-hand gives our grapes unique characteristics, we reserve the organic matter of our soil by utilizing cover crops like flowers or legumes, and we avoid conventional fertilizers and, instead, focus on naturally-derived alternatives. These are just some of the reasons why remaining a boutique winery is such an important part of our brand, it’s about providing the highest quality of products possible first.

Which wines do you reach for during winter months?
I’m definitely a seasonal wine drinker, it changes frequently. But during the winter months, I prefer heavier reds. I gravitate toward our Bordeaux wines and our 2017 Merlot-Cabernet, for example.

What makes NOTL a special place for winemaking?
It all starts in the vineyard, the rest is winemaking. I’ve always said we have gold under our feet here because the soil in this region offers a lot of fertility for farming grapes. Especially when you compare our crops to land in Europe that has been farmed for years and stripped of many nutrients. The four seasons also influence the types of wines we get to produce here. Our climate, even as it becomes warmer with milder winters, is a unique advantage for us. We’ve also formed a great community here, which I believe is part of what has established Niagara-On-The-Lake as a destination for wine lovers to visit.

How would you describe a quintessential Ferox wine?
While our Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling are two drivers in our collection which Ferox is most known for, I’d say that our Black Lion Cuvée embodies everything that makes us so proud as winemakers.

Is there something people might be surprised to learn about winemaking?
It can be hard to learn and integrate your way into the industry. There’s a lot of dedication involved and I’d say that people need to understand that when you’re dealing with mother nature, this business can throw a lot of curveballs at you. So, although it may appear so from the outside, winemaking is not always as leisurely as it may seem.

If there’s one thing novice wine drinkers should look for, what is it?
Especially for Canadians, I would suggest drinking local wine. We’ve got a lot of fantastic wine in our own backyard that is worth exploring. Once you’ve got that started, I would suggest looking at the alcohol content. I’m not a huge fan of wines with high levels of alcohol. Other than that, get curious and try something new.